When Chris Schulz first discovered a Facebook page promoting a stream of fake concerts around New Zealand, he laughed out loud at its ridiculousness. But when he dug a little deeper, he discovered its real-world consequences aren’t funny at all.
First published on Chris Schulz’s newsletter Boiler Room.
On Monday, July 5, Mount Smart Stadium appears to be hosting a free, one-of-a-kind experience. It’s a concert, a big one, and it’s being headlined by something a little different – the venue’s across-town competition, Spark Arena.
Yes, a venue is headlining at another venue. If that’s got you scratching your head, well, it should. It’s weird. It can’t happen. It’s physically impossible. Venues aren’t bands. They don’t make music. You can’t put Spark Arena on another stage.
Look a little closer and this “event” gets even stranger. Organisers of this super unique concert appear to be promising to beam a live-feed of the crowds gathered at each venue back at each other, like when you hold two mirrors together and the world folds in on itself.
Take a good long look at this photo…
Yes, that’s a Mt Smart crowd staring up at a Spark Arena crowd staring back at the Mt Smart crowd. Imagine being here. No music. No one on stage. Just two large groups of people staring at each other through giant video screens, like we’re stuck in Inception for all eternity. Add in the Nolan horns and it would be unbearably intense.
But wait! It gets worse!
On the event page, organisers promise “the biggest night of standing for the year”.
How long are we going to be standing for?! Will Guinness World Records be timing us?
It also says: “Tickets on sale probs next year.”
Well, I’ve got some news that may shock you. Are you ready for it?
This event is probs not gonna happen.
“Mt Smart Stadium is not affiliated with this online event in any way,” replied a nice woman called Michelle when I asked Auckland Stadiums what the hell was going on.
Likewise, if you check Spark Arena’s website, you’ll find gig announcements for Shapeshifter and London Grammar, but you won’t find a listing for ‘Mount Smart live at Spark Arena live at Mount Smart’. Surprise, surprise, it’s not there.
My friend Troy first alerted me to this insane scenario by posting the event on his – gulp – Facebook page. He thought it might have been a social media bot gone rogue.
Here’s Troy: “My theory … is that it’s an advertiser that automatically crawls live event pages for likes and promotes them as their own events. It looks like a bot managed to confuse itself into thinking Mt Smart was a band and Spark Arena was the support act … at Mt Smart the venue.”
It’s a solid theory about a messed-up situation. But I had an inkling there might be something more insidious going on.
After doing some Facebook snooping, I found the culprit. It’s a dodgy Facebook page that isn’t promoting just one fake concert.
There are many. Dozens of them. Here are two more…
They look more legit, right? That’s because they are. Or, at least, they were. Green Day, Weezer and Fall Out Boy’s Hella Mega Tour, originally scheduled for last year, has officially been cancelled. New tour dates have started being announced, but so far, none have been confirmed for New Zealand.
Likewise, My Chemical Romance are performing in Auckland, but not until March 12, 2022. That date was originally set for March 25, 2020, but we all had other things going on back then, like staying home and baking sourdough. So it didn’t go ahead. The emo kings are definitely not playing in November.
There are many other shows being promoted across that page: wrestling events, tribute nights, Fieldays and ballet performances. Some are real events being hosted on fake pages. Some have the dates right, others have the dates wrong. It’s extremely confusing. Maybe that’s the point.
Eventually, I noticed another name that seemed to be associated with most of these events: “Aroha Luxury New Zealand Tour”.
If you search that name on Facebook, two options show up. The two nearly identical pages have the same photos, the same contact details, the same vibe.
They look almost exactly the same – except for one crucial difference.
One is called ‘Aroha Luxury New Zealand Tour,’ and the other is ‘Aroha Luxury New Zealand Tours’.
In case you missed it, there’s an ‘s’ on one, and not on the other.
I tried emailing ‘Aroha Luxury New Zealand Tour’ but it bounced back. I attempted messaging them directly and got no reply.
So I tried the other page, ‘Aroha Luxury New Zealand Tours’. They responded instantly. It’s a legit page run by a proper New Zealand tourism operator. Her name is Veronika Vermeulen and she’s a travel industry veteran with more than 20 years experience.
Her company has been running since 2000 and offers luxury getaways, weekend retreats, chartered helicopters, private jets, villas and chateau stays – you know, proper fancy stuff for when you’re in a James Bond kind of mood.
Veronika’s Facebook page has more than 48,000 likes and incredible reviews. Her business is rated five stars out of five. “You gave us a trip of a lifetime,” said one recent customer.
She’s recently suffered through a huge downturn in tourism thanks to Covid-19. So it’s no surprise that this copycat Facebook page is stressing Veronika out.
“I don’t know what to do any more,” she told me. “We have tried to get them removed without success. Facebook is not interested.”
It turns out the problem is even worse than that stupid scammy Mount Smart event implies. The imposter page is attempting to promote all kinds of events: Backstreet Boys, WWE Live, Rod Stewart and a “Huge Summer Water Fight”.
Here’s one involving a fake Bay Dreams South Island Facebook page.
Here’s that Mt Smart Stadium show again, this time including a flaming Ferris wheel…
And here’s the water fight…
Veronika spotted more of them popping up as we spoke. “There are new events, including bands…” she said.
All of her business contact information and photos has been stolen and hosted on another page. It’s confusing for her customers. She’s tried everything she can to get the page taken down and have the events deleted.
She approached Facebook about it, but didn’t get a reply. That’s no surprise. Likewise, Netsafe and the NZ Fraud Office offered no help to her.
So she’s doing what she can. Under every event, Veronika has posted, “This is a fraud” to warn others off. It’s her little rebellion.
It’s all she can do.
So what do the imposters get out of it? At first it’s hard to see. There are no website links, nothing asking for money, no buttons to buy tickets. Just dodgy event listing after dodgy event listing. My messages got no responses.
In an attempt to find out what they were after, I called Sam Heath from Nudge Marketing. He helps promote Bay Dreams and other live events around the South Island. He’s the one who spotted the dodgy page and alerted Veronika to it.
Sam’s seen this happen, many times before.
He instantly knew what I was talking about.
Like the high school reunion Facebook scam I nearly fell for over Christmas, it’s all to do with money. Those event pages don’t ask for it outright.
But eventually, they do.
Here’s Sam: “There are always fake pages. It happens all the time. What they generally do is try and sell tickets. What I always see on all these fake accounts (is someone) saying, ‘I bought two tickets, I’m looking to sell them’. And then it’s not even a person, it’s a fraudulent account set up so that people will then transfer them the money and then they get no tickets.”
So people follow the page, their friends see that and follow it too. Eventually, once there are enough followers and comments, and it’s a little closer to the real event’s date, a fake Facebooker dives into the comments, offers a couple of tickets for sale, and anyone who asks for them will be sent a PayPal account to send them money. Then the account disappears, there are no tickets, the money’s gone, and it’s game over.
Are the same people setting up the fake events and selling the fake tickets? It seems so. “It’s just a numbers game,” Sam told me. He thinks it’s probably coming from a scam factory in India. “Their labour’s so cheap, it doesn’t really matter … They’re just ripping off any event.”
As for the batshit insane Mount Smart event, it seems Troy was right. The imposter thought those venues were band names, used them to set up an event with some bad Google images, and lo and behold, we arrive at an Inception-sized screw-up involving two giant crowds staring at each other on a big screen.
If you want to help Veronika out, you can go to the imposter Aroha Luxury New Zealand Tour page, click on the three dots, then click on the ‘Find Support and Report Page’ button. Click on ‘Scams and Fake Pages,’ then ‘Pretending to be Another Business,’ enter the name ‘Aroha Luxury New Zealand Tours’ and you’re done.
A few moments of your time could really help. If enough of us do it, a Facebook monkey bot beholden to Zuckerberg might finally get the message and take the scam page down. I’ve done it already, and if you have time, you should too.
But is it wrong that, after deep-diving into all of this, I still kind of want to see Mount Smart live at Spark Arena live at Mount Smart? What if Tom Hardy and Leonardo DiCaprio abseil through a time portal – and I’m not there to see it?
I’d never forgive myself.
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